Getting your Human Resources in order

A free guide to HR by Panacea Adviser

These are significant times for the advisory profession as regulation continues to drive financial services to the brink. Consequently it is of great importance that adviser firms have the right people in place and know how to get the best from their staff.

This is why we have developed this new guide, ‘Getting Your Human Resources in Order’, to try and help clear up any human resource ambiguity, as effectively managing HR is essential.

This guide takes business owners through the basic principles of how to hire, manage and get the best from their employees, to dealing with disciplinary issues, maternity leave and subsequent return to work, and finally how to handle redundancies. All key factors to ensure your workforce remains a contented one and you are safe in the knowledge that you are doing things in accordance with employment law.

In an industry where regulation is ever changing, it is important that staff do not, for they are one of a company’s best assets and when treated fairly, a business is more likely to succeed.

This guide is intended for small firms, and line and team managers in larger organisations.

Download for free at http://www.panaceaadviser.com/hrguide

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Gizza job, I can do that.

The New Year is traditionally a time when many people reassess their professional roles and decide a change may be worth pursuing. For many people I suspect this involves looking for a new job – indeed recent research published by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) revealed that 37% of workers say they are planning to leave their current jobs in 2015, a significant increase on the 19% who answered the same way in 2014 and the 13% in 2013.

But what about the financial advisory profession? How many advisers reading this article are considering a career change? I suspect very few although, given the average age of advisers, I wonder if most aren’t looking forward to retirement with some considerable relish. To be honest, I can’t blame those advisers who might be looking for an early exit – this job comes with some significant pressures to deal with whether they are in the form of regulation, increased costs, political interference, constant change, professional development requirements. The list goes on.

Unfortunately having to cope with these ongoing developments and the growing requirements placed on advisers has – in this country at least – somewhat detracted from the attractiveness of financial advising as a career choice. I am always interested in the ‘job reaction’ you get from people when you tell them what you do. How are financial advisers perceived? Are they thrown in the same pot as estate agents or journalists or parking wardens? I hope not given the job advisers do and the focus on quality and service.

Then again, the nature of what a financial adviser is and does has been systematically depowered by the continuous regulatory changes and developments. It is about to become even more confusing for consumers in April when a whole host of pension ‘Guidance agents’ are unleashed on the at-retirement market with only a requirement to have “some pensions knowledge” as the recent Citizens Advice job specification put it.

Of course it doesn’t have to be this way. Last year research conducted in the US by Rapacon placed being a financial adviser as one of the top ten jobs to have in the future. It is clearly a sought after career choice suggesting to me that the profession’s reputation across the pond is not just intact but strong and enticing to those looking at their employment. Can we really say the same in the UK?

So, how can we improve the reputation of the profession, ensure it is attractive to new blood, and develop greater consumer understanding of what advisers do, their value and worth, and why it’s a job worth having? Like most things, I believe it’s important to start with yourself. To that end, it’s about being the best you can be in your individual role which does mean self-improvement, lifelong learning, a commitment to continuous professional development, etc. If advisers are focused on self-betterment, on improving themselves and increasing their own standards, then this will clearly feed into the service they offer which will improve reputations and generate strong feedback and referrals.

Advisers need to be fully focused on their own roles which means not getting into a rut and instead retaining interest in the job and everything about it. Learning more and securing greater knowledge is a fundamental way to do this – we have recognised this for some time which is why we established a CPD library containing both structured and unstructured material which is easily accessible and allows the adviser to continually load up on new information. It will not only help the adviser improve their service offering but feed through into a growing positive reputation for the profession.

A profession renowned for its security, its prospects and the quality of its overall offering will clearly be attractive to those who are working in other areas or have yet to start work. While the legal, accountancy, and banking sectors have been tapping into the graduate market for decades, establishing these careers as worth pursuing, unfortunately the advisory community has not been working at the same level.

If we do want to bring new blood into our community then we certainly need to begin pushing and marketing the profession in a much more focused and structured way. Our professional and trade bodies must work closely together on developing an ongoing campaign that supports individual firms’ own recruitment policies if we are to raise the profile of being a financial adviser and make it stand out from the crowd. This should be a long-term commitment that highlights the positives of the profession and sets out the very tangible and compelling reasons for being part of it.

With the New Year being a time when many people consider what they should be doing next now is certainly the right point to secure our own professions’ future.

 


Responsibilities, resignations, retributions

Yet again we see industry calls for responsibility in office from those who regulate. Last month’s news that somebody in authority at the FCA had set in motion a market crash in provider firms shares, and should be seen to carry the can for failure on their watch, could be seen as a breath of fresh air.

But is it the right person in the frame? And who will decide?

The FCA has agreed to a rethink of its investigation into the release by a senior regulator of market-sensitive information, after being accused of“marking its own homework”.

TSC chairman Andrew Tyrie somewhat damningly said of the revised review:“It is crucial – now that the FCA’s non-executive directors have commissioned this inquiry – that neither they nor the board play any further role until Mr Davis (Clifford Chance) has completed his final report.

Hector Sants told the TSC he was not responsible for any failures of the organisation since 2007 saying” the failures in the last decade, both conduct and prudential, come from a wide variety of sources” but vitally not from him.

Martin Wheatley has not exactly leapt to defend Clive Adamson from what I have read and I am not sure if  “Nothing to do with me mate” would be a credible TSC defence.

What we seem to be lacking in society today is some leadership by way of acceptance of a sense of moral responsibility at least for the failings of an organisation they head up when something goes wrong that was within their stewardship.

I do not think we in the industry have witnessed that- yet!

Lord Adair Turner, once described by Kelvin McKenzie as “he of the ten-dollar haircut and the ten cent brain” arrived at the TSC telling them that making a regulator accountable would place a financial burden on the industry.

Why is it that those in an unelected position of power and authority fail to see that an element of responsibility should attach to that power? As Bernard Shaw once observed, “those who have once been intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, can never willingly abandon it”

Those who regulate must carry responsibility too because if there is no fear or sanction attaching to you doing “something really stupid, possibly knowing it was really stupid”, then all confidence is lost.

Shaw was right, “Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power”.

Just as an afterthought, an adviser sent me this last week from a CPD test, as he wisely observed, there should be an option 5- None at all.

www.panaceaadviser.com

Keep your eyes on the prize guys

The Panacea community is made up mostly of men, recent research would suggest 93% (as one would ‘kind’a expect) the age demographic is that 45% are within the 50-59 age group and 24% are over 60. And you may be at real risk of having or getting Prostate Cancer.

With this in mind, coupled with my very recent personal ‘up close and personal’ experience of the subject, I felt this was a good idea to do my little bit to create some awareness of something that at best can change your life and at very worst kill you, especially if you sit within this age demographic.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. Over 40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. Over 250,000 men are currently living with the disease.

The majority of men with prostate cancer are aged over 60 years and the disease is very rare in men under 50. Research in the U.S shows that other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. The American Cancer Society’s estimates for prostate cancer in the United States for 2014 are that:

  • About 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed
  • About 29,480 men will die of prostate cancer

The following, along with help from the internet, will I hope assist in understanding what it is, what symptoms to look out for, how it is detected and how it is treated.

Detection is of course the starting point for getting ‘sorted out’.

In my case, I had a BUPA medical in September last year and I was advised that following a fairly basic (I use that term advisedly) examination and questioning I was given a PSA test and told to consult a specialist as soon as possible.

But there is a problem with a PSA test (it is a blood test that measures the level of prostate-specific antigens) as results can be unreliable and this was explained to me, especially as my result was negative.

So off to the specialist I go. Although estimated life expectancy should figure prominently in treatment decisions, available data suggests that physician skill in this area is sometimes lacking, often leading to inappropriate treatment.

I was recommended to see consultant Chris Ogden, a top guy in this area it would seem. After looking at the BUPA data, he gave me another, far more detailed shall we say, ultra sound examination- an interesting ‘inner body experience’, and immediately informed me, with some quite graphc images, that my prostate was some three times the normal size. To allow him to understand more, an MRI scan was now needed.

A week later and with the scan done and clutching a CD copy of my very own, it was back to see Chris Ogden.

In my case the scan showed up some darkened areas that Chris said required further investigation- so now a transperineal prostate biopsybeckoned, deep joy.

Thankfully, I was ‘out to lunch’ for this having been given a general anesthesetic.

Now the most important thing with a biopsy is that a lot of samples are taken.

NHS procedures are normally conducted by way of a transrectal ultrasound-guided prostate biopsy that only take 10-12 samples and from what I have heard this may not be enough.

I had 30 samples taken by transperineal prostate biopsy, all in a day surgery, one hour or so procedure, at the Royal Marsden.

Ten days later and it is results time.

The news was very good, all clear and no sign of cancer cells. A short course of tablets is all that is needed and ‘normal service’ will be resumed.

So, the purpose of this highly personal blog is to highlight the fact that you guys, especially if you are over 50, reading this need to look out for the symptoms and get checked out now if any are showing.

The symptoms of growths in the prostate are similar whether they are non cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). The symptoms include

  •             Having to rush to the toilet to pass urine
  •             Passing urine more often than usual, especially at night
  •             Difficulty passing urine, including straining to pass it or stopping and starting
  •             A sense of not being able to completely empty the bladder
  •             Pain when passing urine
  •             Blood in the urine or semen

The last two symptoms – pain and bleeding – are very rare in prostate cancer. They are more often a symptom of non-cancerous prostate conditions.

If you have any of the above, there are no prizes for hoping they will go away as I can tell you they will not, and if left could end up killing you, get to see your doctor now.

If I can conclude by saying that for wives and partners this is a big worry for them, they do not suffer but do feel your pain while you are being investigated and especially if you are found to have a problem. It can be life changing for them too.

Give them some recognition for the support they give you in getting through this.

Hotel California

 

Hotel Pic

I think my mind is sometimes not operating as it should.

I was watching a great two part documentary on the Eagles last week, singing along, “There she stood in the doorway…………..This could be Heaven or this could be Hell”

Then my mind ventured back to thorny issue of the longstop. It seems to have been parked somewhere whilst the industry adapts to new practices, improved qualifications and an FCA honeymoon period.

So what is happening? Is APFA about to get “jiggy” with the matter, are advisers still angered by the lack of it or should we all ‘play nicely’ with “Uncle Martin’ and get on without it?

I decided to re-read a lot of content on our site regarding the subject and in doing so it really got me, shall I say, agitated all over – again. Simply type in the words ‘longstop’ in our Panacearch box near the top right of the home page and see what information comes up.

There are pages of it.

A more recent search result on the subject caught my eye after noting that Ms Ceeney reckoned last year that advisers would be a “lot more worse off with a longstop”?

Putting to one side the ‘gramatics’ and the song lyrics, I was quite taken aback by this statement as it implied that advisers are already at the “worse off” starting block under the investigative eye of the FOS.

On what quantative scale “a lot MORE worse off” is found, is unknown but clearly not good news.

Ms Ceeney and staff, in some eyes, can appear to take a less than neutral position and although it is very important that consumer rights are well protected, those it investigates have rights too. The FOS is meant to be impartial, investigating complaints fairly, taking into account the evidence available and/or considering the balance of probability.

The removal of the longstop was a quite calculated, not too well consulted upon result of the process of implementing FSMA 2000. There are many who consider the removal unlawful.

As Julian Stevens observed in August 2011-, “For a long time now the regulator appears to have an agenda of stirring up trouble where none existed before, an agenda that the FSA seems more than ever determined to pursue, despite a catalogue of failures to get to grips with problems that really have needed tackling”. The removal of the longstop was at the start of that agenda.

Peter Hamilton writing in May 2011 for Money Marketing“there is so close a structural connection between the FOS and the FSA as to cast doubt on whether the FOS can be regarded as independent of the regulator. Thus, for example, the FSA appoints and may dismiss the chairman and directors of the FOS. The chief ombudsman and the FOS must report to the FSA on the discharge of their functions and the FSA must approve the budget of the FOS”.

Ms Ceeney said in an interview with FT Adviser “the main issue is that financial products are often bought many years before an individual needs them, such as a pension plan. The longstop would mean there is no way of coming back if sold an investment product for many years down the line. The problem is the nature of financial services is very different to other industries because you won’t find out until many years later – that was the case with mortgage endowments.”

The point that seems to be missed by all those in Regulation Street opposed to the re-instatement of the longstop is that the removal flies in the face of the protection the laws of the land bestowed upon UK citizens and now, it would seem, afforded to all except advisers.

Regulation may not always be fair in the eyes of those who fall under its ‘spell’, but one cannot simply disenfranchise one particular business community or indeed any community from another in such a way.

The problem with investigating claims so long after the event is that the recollection of circumstances, aims and aspirations has a tendency, especially if documentary evidence is scarce or non-existent, to be inconsistent at best and manipulative at worst, and that goes for both sides.

That is why the Limitations Act came about, to protect against the effects of “Stale Claims” where the passing of time and lack of evidence makes it difficult to make a judgment.

However, the FOS operates on the ‘Merricks’ principle – they can and do make the law with the cloak of protection the FCA offers to it.

Some other ill informed or ill-judged points Ms Ceeney makes:

  • “That the courts do not have a six-month deadline like the FOS does”. True, yet the complainant can revert to the Courts and rerun the case if they are unhappy with a FOS decision. But the courts do have a six-year cut off tied in with a fifteen-year absolute stop. An ADVISER firm can only make a request for a Judicial Review- at huge cost and the decision is not guaranteed.
  • “We don’t have a long-stop but we have lots of restrictions around. Complainants only have six months to go the FOS once the complaint has been raised with the firm, which the court doesn’t have”. True in practice, but I think that many advisers will have had experience of this not actually being a reflection of what happens. The FOS has been seen in the past to actively assist complainants by creating new or further complaints not actually made at the time of the initial complaint to the FOS or the indeed the firm.

And:

  • “The 6 month deadline is there to ensure this doesn’t go on indefinitely”: A bit of a red herring statement. I thought that was what the longstop was for Ms Ceeney. Although the Limitations Act was set up to deal with the passing of time, she seems to have overlooked the fact that complaint rules change often and apply retrospectively.

The timescale you have to complain is six years after the date of advice given or three years from when you could have become reasonably aware that you may have a problem. So that is in fact nine years. The six-month deadline applies to making a complaint after receiving a firm’s final decision letter.

We have as an industry seen complaint rules change and the problem is that with FSA, now FCA and FOS rules today, everything, anything is applied retrospectively and it is the adviser firm that carries the can for the rest of their life in many cases as a result.

This retro protection makes PI markets difficult, sometimes even impossible for firms, compensation can often paid for events that did not actually happen and what was accepted as right for a client a decade ago can be found wrong today with the benefit of hindsight.

Peter Hamiliton summed up the whole position in MM very well as follows. “Thus, under the law, I know in advance where I can and cannot park my car. But if I could park only where some official specified after the event, I would have no right to park at all. Similarly, if my right to my possessions is watered down to mean only a right to hold them until the FOS decides it is fair and reasonable for me to pay them to somebody else, then I have no “right” in a true sense to my possessions at all.

This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that there is no appeal and the fact that any judicial review of a FOS decision on the merits of a case is, for all practical purposes, impossible because of the vagueness of the subjective (“in the opinion of the ombudsman”) fair and reasonable criterion”.

So, as the Eagles may conclude:

“Last thing I remember, I was

Running for the door

I had to find the passage back

To the place I was before

“Relax, ” said the FOS man,

“We are programmed to receive.

You can checkout any time you like,

But you can never leave! “

 

It’s about the “Money, money, money”

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How to build a super-profitable advisory firm

We recently noticed some very interesting tweets on “How to build a super-profitable advisory firm” and after reading and digesting them we felt it was worth a conversation with the “Tweet” source- a forward thinking accountancy firm, the WOW Company.

As accountants, they’ve worked with hundreds of small businesses over the years, from start-up to £5m turnover and with this in mind we asked them to share their thoughts and experiences with the community, we are sure you will find this an interesting and informative read.

Enjoy.

“We’re constantly fascinated by the difference between those that make it big and those that just tick along, so we thought we’d find out what separates these two groups and share with you the things you need to be thinking about if you’re serious about building a super-profitable advisory firm.

Get cash in quicker

Some quick tips to get your cash in quicker (particularly relevant post RDR):

  • Ask for deposits – Do not start work on a project until you have been paid a deposit. If the client is not willing to work in this way, walk away. They will only be a nightmare further down the line.
  • Staged payments – Don’t leave a massive payment to be made at the end, split the project up into its key milestones and look to invoice regularly throughout.
  • Reduce your payment terms to ‘by return’ – If you give 30 days credit, you cannot start asking for the money for 30 days. This is crazy – it is the banks that should be lending to businesses right now, not you! Change your payment terms on invoices to ‘by return’ and you’re then able to ask for the money sooner.
  • Be upfront – State your terms in your ‘terms of engagement’ document. It won’t stop clients trying to negotiate, but at least you can start the discussion on your terms, not theirs.
  • Retain leverage – Don’t e-mail over the final report or complete the pension transfer until they have paid for it. Once the project is completed, you’ve got no leverage.
  • Have a system for getting cash in – Review your debtors at least once a week and allocate time to make phone calls to get the cash in. If you’re not comfortable doing it, find someone that is.

Really get to grips with the numbers

Unless you really understand the important numbers in your business, you’ve got no chance of increasing your profit. And we’re not just talking about understanding your accounts here. There are everyday numbers within your business that will be crucial guides to how you are doing. We help our clients set up dashboards for their businesses, to ensure you are regularly reviewing the numbers that are important to you.

Every business is different, so we’re offering 30-minute telephone reviews for any small business who needs help setting up their dashboard. Get in touch if you’d like to arrange this (no charge for this initial chat).

Prioritise sales & marketing

We’re Accountants, so we’re not going to start dispensing marketing advice. However, when we did our research, we noticed that the clients that make the most profit mentioned that a key turning point for them in their growth journey was when they decided to prioritise sales and marketing. We spotted a number of common traits amongst the top performing advisory firms. They all had the following:

  • An individual responsible for sales and marketing (it didn’t fall in between 2 directors).
  • Allocated time to complete sales activity, e.g. every Tuesday & Thursday, or the first 2 hours of each day.
  • Targets for generating opportunities, e.g. number of meetings required per week.
  • Kept track of the key stats, e.g. where the client heard about them, number of meetings, value of assignment, conversion rate, final project value.
  • A plan – Not ‘War & Peace’, but a simple one page plan that showed them what they were going to do this month to generate clients.

Do you prioritise sales and marketing in your business?

Make your projects more profitable

It’s one of the biggest challenges that advisory firms face: Delivering great client service, whilst still making a profit. We see so many firms walking the tightrope between keeping the client happy and ensuring that the scope of the job doesn’t creep beyond the original boundaries – how many times have you said yes to the question “Can you also help me with this?” but then not charged for this additional help? The reality is that there is no simple answer to solving this challenge, but there are lots of little things that you can do to help you achieve more profitable assignments.

Much will depend on how you are doing things at the moment, so get in touch to discuss how you can create more profitable projects. We’ll happily spend 30 minutes on the phone chatting through a few ideas that we have up our sleeve.

Get out of the day-to-day

This is easier said than done, but unless you step away from the coal face, you’ve got no chance of generating sustainable profits. We noticed that the top performing clients we surveyed were masters at delegating and building teams around them that could do the work. The founders were brave when it came to recruiting (they did it early) and were constantly looking ahead to help plan what resource they’d need, including investing early in apprentice paraplanners and training them up for the future.

If you feel that you’ve not got the right team around you to delegate to, then you need to do something about it…. and fast. You’re also going to have to get really good at letting go of the day-to-day tasks, to allow you to concentrate on the bigger picture.

If you’d like to build a super-profitable advisory firm and are looking for an accountant to help you get there, get in touch via info@thewowcompany.com

Peter Czapp;  thewowcompany.com

 

 

Mine’s bigger than yours!

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It was reported a week or so ago that IFA network Best Practice has raised the bar for its would-be members, requiring them to be QCF level 6 qualified.

The ‘posting’ outcry that followed highlighted the adviser qualification schism that has developed both leading up to and beyond RDR.

This is very sad, counter productive and in many ways misses the many valid points made by advisers about the purpose and application of qualifications linked to doing the best for your clients.

Some perspective is called for in this debate as it is clear that the industry is a sum of its many and varied parts. How this applies to fostering strong consumer relationships is in many ways not always about how well qualified an adviser is.

In August last year the IFS launched a level 6 qualification program.

In their notes on the subject they said:

The new Level 6 qualification builds on the success of the Institute’s Diploma in Financial Advice, the Advanced Diploma in Financial Advice is aimed at advisers who want to differentiate themselves from their peers and demonstrate their commitment to professional development and standards by going beyond the threshold qualification level.

To be eligible for the programme, applicants must already hold a QCF Level 4 qualification, such as the Institute’s Diploma in Financial Advice or an equivalent qualification in financial advice and planning.

Best Practice was founded in 2003 and in 2009 gained the Chartered accreditation to achieve the highest levels of qualification and professionalism.

Any firm planning to join their network must have a principal or director qualified to level 6, holding either the chartered or certified financial planner qualification. Around half of their 90-member network already holds level 6.

There will be commercial benefits attached to this decision. For example the network should be able to obtain better PI terms based upon a combination of higher levels of qualifications and any uplifted compliance and best practice rigour that is put in place.

Best Practice state that they “have a belief that all practices are different with their own set of goals and way of working” 

Qualifications are important but it is how they are put into practice, how they relate to a client needs and most importantly do their clients see enough value in this to pay for it.

Higher qualifications do not always guarantee good outcomes.

We only need to look at NHS nursing today to see that the standards and expectations of patient care, that were fostered and promoted pre degree entry to the profession, have fallen in to great disrepair.

Many new nurses, now with a degree qualification as a requirement to do the job, no longer see that caring about patients is not always about the professional qualification to do the job.

It is about sometimes doing often dirty unpleasant work, about empathy, compassion, pride, humour, understanding, hope and above all never say never.

For those advisers that do not see the need or the value for QCF level 6 to best serve their clients interests it is most likely that they and their clients value more their empathy, compassion, pride, humour, understanding, hope experience and above all never say never attitude that has been established over many years in addition to their QCF level 4.

And really there is nothing wrong with that.

Best Practice are right in saying: all practices are different with their own set of goals and way of working” and as an industry we should see that there is no right or wrong, no good or bad, no better or worse.

It is what works for your firm and your clients, who after all are the ultimate arbiters in deciding your success or failure.

Back in March 2011, MM’s Paul McMillan was asking if level 6 will become the new minimum standard and I suspect that within 5 years it may well be heading that way.

If so, any raising of the academic qualification bar should be done with a clear purpose, way beyond just achieving higher qualifications for qualification’s sake.